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SLO’s police station is cramped and has leaky ceilings. Is it time for a new one?

Tour SLO’s aging, cramped police station with chief Deanna Cantrell

San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell gives a tour of the department's aging station, many parts of which are in a state of disrepair. The department is hoping the community will support building a new facility.
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San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell gives a tour of the department's aging station, many parts of which are in a state of disrepair. The department is hoping the community will support building a new facility.

The San Luis Obispo police station is in a state of disrepair, the city says, and it’s planning to ask residents to pay for a new one.

Police Chief Deanna Cantrell says the decades-old station and its outdated buildings are cramped, with jam-packed evidence rooms, leaky ceilings and a strained electrical system, among other problems.

Cantrell is gearing up for a public campaign the city has dubbed “Funding the Future” that would help finance the replacement of the current station at 1042 Walnut St. The envisioned project, which calls for a three-story building, is estimated to cost $50 to $60 million.

The City Council could decide to float a half-cent or 1 cent sales tax increase on the 2020 ballot, leaving it to city residents to decide on a potential funding source for a new station and other infrastructure improvements such as a Mission Plaza upgrade and crosstown bike corridors.

“We provide care, and we care for our community, and we provide a really high level of service to our community, and it would be nice (to have adequate facilities),” Cantrell said. “We see things that nobody should see in life. ... When we leave those things and come back to the building that we live in, the building that we live in is depressing.”

Cantrell said she uses the word “living” at the station because officers work 12-hour shifts and even have a sleeping room, a converted closet with cots, where they can doze if needed.

Cantrell recently led The Tribune on a tour of the station, originally built in 1969 with an addition in 1983. The department currently has 12,800 square feet of total usable space, with 59 sworn officers and 87 total staff.

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The city of San Luis Obispo’s police station is in a state of disrepair, and needs replacement, according to Police Chief Deanna Cantrell. Here, Cantrell points out the “sleeping room.” Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The facility isn’t built to modern-day seismic standards and isn’t compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act, she said. It’s severely lacking in critical needs like space to store evidence, Cantrell said.

The department’s traffic and special enforcement officers work in a 778-square-foot, former house on the property that was built in 1906 and purchased by the city to add more space. But that space is in “significant disrepair, with environmental, foundation, structural and electrical issues” Cantrell wrote in a facility summary.

The department’s evidence rooms are scattered throughout the property, with convicted serial killer Rex Krebs’ couch stashed at the top of a backroom shelf.

Boxes of evidence for the cold case of 20-year-old murder victim Marina Ruggiero, who was stabbed to death in 1991 after leaving a wedding reception to go back to a Monterey Street hotel, are packed alongside other items stacked the ceiling in one storage room.

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Evidence in storage at the SLO Police Department. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“We have stuff piled up, big and small, in four or five locations,” Cantrell said. “It should be in one place. That would make it far more efficient for record keeping.”

Cantrell has documented other problems such as:

Electrical capabilities that limit the number of devices and equipment that can be used.

A heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit that can’t handle the heat load during summer months and a lack of a cooling source for the computer room.

Insufficient parking for employees.

Leaky roofs and leaky pipes.

The City Council decided in March 2018 to hold off on pursuing a sales tax measure, saying more time was needed to consider priorities and inform the public in advance of a potential vote.

Daryl Grigsby, the city’s director of Public Works, said $400 million in additional revenue is needed over the next two decades to fully deliver on projects that will “provide the services and experiences SLO residents desire.”

That list also includes the widening of Tank Farm Road and completion of the Bob Jones and Railroad Safety trails. The city also posted a survey to garner public feedback, with mixed responses.

One anonymous resident wrote in opposition to a new tax: “It’s hard enough to afford living here... The residents should not have to pay for the city’s inability to keep a balanced budget and hire and spend within their means.”

But Cantrell views the new station as a must.

“It’s estimated that the resident population will grow to over 57,000 people by 2027,” she wrote in her summary. “To properly support a police force that serves this size community would require a facility more than three time as large as the current facility.”

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.
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